Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Filming of Fish out of Water

I was surfing the internet looking for writing contests when I saw a listing for NBC Playground’s search for new sitcoms. The odds were against me, but I knew I had to enter. The contest had a short window – two months – and the applicants were asked to submit a 5 to 10 minute video and a 3 to 5 minute pitch of their original show idea.

I’ve entered numerous writing contests in my career. I’ve even won a few. But this competition was asking for something I had never done, create a video. I would normally be too intimidated to pursue the project. I am a bit of a technophobe. My friend, Andrea, calls me a Luddite because my old flip phone sits neglected in my purse. I can’t tell you how many bewildered looks I have received from folks when I tell them I don’t text. But I finally decided to embrace technology and bought a droid. I now text, take pictures and even take a few videos of my grandkids. I often forget to turn the camera off and accidently shoot footage of ceilings, floors and my chubby thighs, but it’s a learning process. 

Ironically, some of the outtakes came in handy later to simulate a fall. But more on that another time.
My mind started racing about how I could create a video and enter the contest. Things started to fall into place. My friend, Michele, told me about a great comedic actress named Viva. She told me Viva’s mother, Carole, was a great organizer and could probably help me find other actors. Before I could say “huzzah” I had two talented actors for two of my lead roles.

Both Viva and Sean are not only gifted thespians, they were willing to work for free. The only glitch was timing. Viva was still in school and only had a few days before she would go on vacation and I had to complete everything before I left with my spouse for a work assignment.

Fortunately I am not intimidated by deadlines. I have my journalism professors to thank for that. Everyone else might have two months to create their videos. I would do mine in two weeks. My biggest fear was the actual filming. However, my good friend Joan came to my rescue and agreed to pull out her camcorder and do the job. I would do a little backup filming with my new Droid.

I looked at my script and tried to envision how I could simplify it enough to capture the story without a lot of expensive props. It’s one thing to write a story but quite another to put it together without a talented crew to handle props, sound equipment, music and lighting. Fortunately, several friends, family members and classmates agreed to volunteer for the project. Two of my favorite clients, International Academy of Hair Design

and The Village at Arrowhead Shopping Center allowed me access to their facilities. The shopping center became a meeting place in my faux version of Beverly Hills. The beauty school became the site of an exclusive fashion show.

I purchased two rolls of rope lighting to create a runway, brought a blue sheet to hide a large display of makeup and aesthetic supplies, and again with the help of Joan, as well as Traci from my yogalates class, we moved furniture, stuck a work light on the end of a gardening tool and began filming.

Prior to filming I went on the internet to research strange things like – how do you replicate vomit. The answer, by the way, is corn chowder. I bought five cans of the stuff and Viva drank the stuff and spewed it on the runway like a champ. After filming and editing this scene I lost two pounds due to the gross out factor. Needless to say, I don’t think anyone who helped on this sitcom project will ever eat corn chowder again. 

When the filming was done the video was still a little short of the five minute minimum so I threw together another scene, at yet another location – Viva’s house. Due to the ensuing deadline I didn’t have time to find another actress to play opposite Viva, so I asked my daughter, Brittany, to take to the stage.

My other daughter, Alicia, helped film and did the editing. Even my granddaughters who are 4 and 6 years old had parts to play. 

 Finally, the filming and editing were completed and Alicia uploaded the video and pitch to the NBC Playground site (not an easy feat.) After hours of watching clips and making decisions about editing (Alicia did the editing but I was still the one making the decisions on what to use and not use) I have new admiration for all the unnoticed details that go into making a short video. I could probably write a book about the subject but this blog post is as close to a book as I’m going to write about the subject.

The morale of the story is I undertook a big challenge, and with the help of friends, family and other kind volunteers, I was able to see it through to completion. What seemed like an impossible task for a professional writer like me with minimal skills in direction, photography and production, was able to complete a project before deadline and with no budget. 

And as a card-carrying member of the AARP I was not too intimidated to compete against young, energetic students from UCLA. Will my project be picked as one of three finalists? Who knows? The winners will be notified by September 30. I hope all of you who read this will send my project, Fish Out Of Water, positive vibes. 

But in a way I have won already. Just by competing I overcame a huge obstacle. It all boils down to if I didn’t try I would  have lost before I ever had a chance to begin. And that would have been the worst defeat of all.